(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's associates spent the weekend trying to extinguish a possible coalition crisis sparked by his unveiling of a far-reaching electoral reform plan that would strengthen the office of prime minister.
In a speech to the Kadima council at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters, Olmert detailed the plan that had been drafted in secret meetings between Kadima, Israel Beiteinu and Gil Pensioners Party officials. The announcement surprised the heads of Labor and Shas, who were upset that they were left out of the deliberations.
Olmert's political adviser Ovad Yehezkel spoke to Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel and other officials to reassure them that further consultations would be held with Labor, Shas and opposition parties before the electoral reforms are brought to a vote.
Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano warned that his party would not tolerate Olmert making decisions with Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman while leaving Labor chairman Amir Peretz in the dark. The controversy will be raised in Labor's faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday.
"Olmert took what should be a very serious issue and made it into political spin," Marciano said on Saturday night. "We have made clear our opinion that Labor shouldn't pay a price for Lieberman joining the coalition."
Israel Beiteinu faction chair Estherina Tartman said she was also surprised by Olmert's announcement because the understandings her party reached with Kadima had not been finalized.
Pensioners Party MKs also criticized their leader, Rafi Eitan, for negotiating behind their backs.
Even in Kadima, MKs grumbled over the weekend about sitting through two hours worth of speeches at the Kadima council meeting about different ways to change the electoral system before Olmert came and told the council that he had already decided for the party. One minister, who presented his own complex plan for changing the system, complained about feeling superfluous.
Labor MK Avishay Braverman said a forum of representatives from several parties, including Kadima, had been convening over the past few weeks in an effort to draft a proposal by consensus, but the process was ruined by Olmert's desire to get a positive headline in Friday's newspapers.
Meanwhile, a vote on the so-called 'Peres bill' that would require an open Knesset vote for the next president was delayed until next week. The ministerial committee on legislation was supposed to meet on Sunday after last week's vote was delayed when it became clear that a majority to pass the bill was lacking.
Since then, cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon succeeded in drafting a majority but several ministers will be abroad this week due to the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Los Angeles. If the bill passes next Sunday, it will be brought to a vote in the Knesset the following Wednesday.
The only chance for the bill to pass the Knesset would be if coalition discipline is enforced. But Labor and Shas officials said they were not required to enforce coalition discipline because the bill would change a Basic Law.
Holding an open vote and not a secret ballot vote would likely sway the race in favor of Peres over the front-runner, Likud MK Reuven Rivlin. Rivlin said he had received a commitment from 69 MKs to vote for him if the vote were held by secret ballot.